The sexualisation of piety

A friend shared this video couple of days ago and I’ve been contemplating since then if I should share it here. I’m sharing because being already out there and the words spoken and recorded, this requires counter-narrative.

I had read all of this before in hadith and seerah and tafsir. I’m aware that this narrative exists in texts, but when I was reading it, at a subconscious level, I thought that nobody really believed it like I didn’t believe it. Hearing it, and listening to it being taught had a completely different impact on me.

It is quite clear that the ‘imam’ fully believes what he’s teaching. The link he creates between different ahadith and tafseer excerpts as well as the Quranic verses is well thought out – men shall outnumber women in heaven (from the hadith that women will outnumber men in hell) because women display their awra (from the hadith banning perfume and Quran banning display of ‘adornments). He goes on to explain the physical attributes of the hoors (from Tirmizi, volume 2, pg 35-40; Bukhari vol.4, book 55, number 544; Quran: 55:72-74; 78:33; 56:37-40; Al-Bukhari volume 4, book 52, number 53; Al-Bukhari vol.4, book 54, number 476). Men’s sexual capacity in heaven is also expounded (from Ibn Majah, volume 5, number 4337) and how they will be busy “breaking hymens” (from Ibn Katheer, 3/564). Again and again the imam tells his congregation that there’s no sin in talking about sex and about the breasts and hymens of these heavenly females because it is right here in Quran and hadith; it is all for Muslim men. While human females must hide themselves, there is no sin in fantasizing about the hoor. There is great emphasis on female virginity – so much that the imam tells the men that each time they have sex with the hoor and return from another one, the first would be a virgin again! At the same time, there is no requirement from men to be virgins as if the concept of male virginity does not even exist (or at least occur to the imam).

This seriously affects how women are treated in the physical world. It is linked to misogyny and is a great reason we need Muslim feminism so that this type of thought and narrative can be challenged. This is being taught to young men in mosques, inside places of worship we hold scared, where actually women are delegated the back spaces. Young men are taught that while they are flawless, human females are tainted, sinful and literally hellbound. In case some women do make it into heaven, there is no description of what they should await. The focus of heaven’s bounty – the food and wine, and sexual pleasure, is the Muslim heterosexual man. Obviously then, the flawless men should teach and control the sinful women.

A friend suggested that one way we can counter this narrative is to encourage our husbands, brothers and sons to report if something like this is taught in mosques. While this can be done in Western mosques, I wonder if someone can actually do much if this is taught in a Muslim-majority country where dissent is met with death. Please, please offer suggestions on how this kind of teaching can be stopped. We all know this isn’t a single instance; we’ll seen and read this before.

The psychology of hate and why men hate the ‘other’ women

“All men make mistakes, but only wise men learn from their mistakes” – Winston Churchill

Abu Eesa made a mistake. And it is my sincere belief that if he has been a real student of Islam, he has learned valuable lessons from it (although it’s hard to say what lessons he has learned as a ‘scholar’).

Islam teaches humility and repentance to Allah if you have hurt another human’s feelings (particularly if that human is another Muslim). Quran categorically lists the errors of some of the prophets all of whom were wise men and competent judges of their people so that humanity can learn from their mistakes and from their habit of repentance. Quran also reprimands the Prophet Muhammad when he (80:3–11): عبس وتولي  – “frowned and turned away.” This entire Quranic chapter is called عبس, meaning ‘frown’ and tells the Prophet that he was indeed wrong in frowning and turning away from a blind man who had approached him for he may have learned valuable lessons from the Prophet and may have grown in purity. The chapter goes on to tell the Prophet that he paid eager attention to the ones who could see/the self-sufficient/the knowledgable  even though he could not guarantee that they would increase in purity, yet ignored the blind man who ran to him with eagerness and fear of God in his heart.

What do we learn from this chapter? We learn that indeed it is the job of the teachers of deen to attend to the needs of everyone who seek their knowledge (including the self-sufficient and the needy) but it is particularly important for them not to frown and turn away from anyone who is a fellow Muslim because they do not know how much eagerness or fear of God they have in their hearts. Moreover, they don’t know who may benefit from their wisdom. To then mock them, and curse them to “wither and wiggle in rage” is certainly not in keeping with the Prophet’s sunnah nor is it in accordance with the teachings of the Quran.

People who support this blatant disregard for the Prophetic tradition and Quranic discipline and adab are at greater fault. In this most remarkable essay, the writer argues that “neural activity is important because it tells us something critical about how people think about one another. Those who are close to us are considered mindful human beings, “like me.” As people become more and more different from us, or more distant from our immediate social networks, they become less and less likely to engage our MPFC (medial prefrontal cortex). When we don’t engage this region, others appear relatively mindless, something less than fully human” – that is the psychology of hate and how we deny human beings their humanity. Abu Eesa and those who support him have distanced themselves from other Muslims who are “not like them” and hence such Muslims, progressives and feminists, are considered “relatively mindless, something less than fully human.” They “don’t understand Abu Eeas’s superior British humour”, they “don’t know him enough”, they are “hateful and want to cause fitnah.”  Abu Eesa’s supporters and recently he himself reposted his Facebook Note from June 2013 in which he calls the ‘sisters’ “awesome.” The keyword is ‘sisters’ who “keep pushing it higher and higher and raising the standards in Deen and ihsan. They are busy running the homes, raising the next generation, doing the da’wah on the streets, educating themselves and others, and just being all round superstars.” And then he lists examples of the superstar sisters. They are not journalists or fashion designers or businesswomen or anthropologists or neuroscientists; they are either students of Islam or ones who sacrifice “a good and free life” to support their husbands. But what about the thousands of Muslim women who don’t want to sacrifice a good and free life for a man, who want to study subjects other than Islam, who don’t cover their heads, who believe that women and men are equal in worth, and who support everyone based on humanity? They are less likely to engage Abu Eesa’s MPFC and hence are the ones who are mocked and cursed. More dangerously, he has consciously or inadvertently taught his students to hate and be arrogant. His students use similar sexist rhetoric to scare Muslim men from supporting women. The mindset is that if Muslim men support women they are emasculated and so for a Muslim man to be manly, he must make fun of women.

Is Abu Eesa really a misogynist who hates women? I don’t think so. I don’t think he hates *all* women. But the words he uses (which are banned in my own home) certainly do show hatred towards women who don’t form part of his approved circle.

I have said before that I don’t believe that traditional Islam, Islam as it was at its inception, and Islam as practiced in orthodoxy today by the likes of Abu Eesa believes in the equality of men and women in society. I don’t think that was ever the purpose of the earliest movement, but (if you read that previous post you will see that) all free Muslim women within Islam have equal rights. This is why it came as a shock to many Muslim women, including me, to see an alleged ‘ustad’/imam/sheikh ridiculing and cursing Muslim women only because they are also feminists.

Abu Eesa is now asking the ummah to “stay united” and not let “secular” people cause fitnah. Muslims have been united even if we showed our disagreement with him. We feel united and part of one ummah which is why we are offended when one of us shows his blatant male chauvinism. And this is one of the reasons I feel it was necessary that Muslims showed their disapproval in large numbers.

I believe that Abu Eesa’s *jokes* were deliberate to warn the women in his ‘circle’ from ever joining the feminist movement – for if they did, he would mock them in a similar fashion. He didn’t make one passing comment, but a series of sexist remarks cloaked in the garb of British humour. He didn’t educate himself enough to learn that IWD is not only supported by feminists but is celebrated even by women who refrain from calling themselves feminists.  But that is beside the point. The point is that since Abu Eesa and other men like him have no role to play in IWD, they feel that it threatens their security as the “all-knowledgeable” custodians of Islam without whom no movement can prosper, and so he feels it is a day that must be mocked, shunned and ridiculed.

No, Yasir Qadi that is not British humour. I’m amazed that British people are not offended by this persistence that Abu Eesa has “dark British humour.” His humour is of its own kind. If Abu Eesa claims to be British in humour then he should also be British in apology and should have apologised unconditionally right away if he realised that he had “frowned and turned away.”

But he didn’t realise it and only made it worse when a woman displayed her anger:

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What AE said in response was not a *joke*, he is right. I also don’t believe he was condoning such behaviour. But I think he is not enlightened enough to understand the gravity of his words on public forums. It was worse than his regular *jokes.* It was an arrogant and angry outburst at the woman for which he claims he had to stoop at the intellectual level of his interlocutor (BTW, if you can access it, there’s a scholarly paper on how “challenging chauvinist attitudes often results in anxiety or other symptoms“). Again, Muslims have questioned if Abu Eesa’s response was in keeping with proper adab. While one may be able to pick and point to ahadith in which the Prophet cursed his interlocutors in the same tone as was used (Volume 8, Book 73, Number 57) one quick scan of the page will show that he never cursed fellow Muslims and Islamic history stands witness that he in fact pardoned and blessed those who harmed him in Taif. That is the Prophetic tradition. Abu Eesa on the other hand, apparently caused post-traumatic stress for not just one Muslim sister through his comments, but others too who didn’t realise they were suffering from PTSD. Like Omid Safi says, “Abu Eesa is simply, sadly, pathetically, and unprophetically, not funny.”

Abu Eesa’s students keep pleading that they know him better and that this is his ‘style.’ However, he didn’t contain his ‘style’ to his classroom; he brought it out because the women he hates are the ones outside his classroom. And the women he mocked, who are angered, are Muslim. Non-Muslim women don’t know Abu Eesa and don’t care about what he says because in their minds he’s just another Muslim man acting like just another stereotypical Muslim man mocking Muslim women, women from his ummah, women who look like him and behave like him. Only Abu Eesa doesn’t realise this. And then we complain why our men are stereotyped! This is also why Muslim women are angry with him. They feel betrayed by one of their own. They feel he’s belittling their cause – a cause that wants recognition of Muslim women as fully equal in worth as human beings, a cause asking men to be tolerant and respectful, a cause expecting men to be their allies, a cause they think Abu Eesa should be supporting as a self-professed follower of Quran and Sunnah.

Muslim women have always asked for their rights from the beginning of Islam. Islamic/Muslim Feminism as it is called today, is not bidah (an innovation). The very reason that men like Abu Eesa exist and think like he does is enough for feminism to exist in Islam of today. Abu Eesa makes IWD essential.

However, I noticed that Abu Eesa is making an effort to show women that he’s not a monster (and he isn’t!) – by re-posting an old Note in which he praises Muslim sisters, he shows that he respects at least the women in his circle.

The teacher just needs to learn to extend that circle.

List of reactions

Safiyyah Surtee’s status update – https://www.facebook.com/HappyMetis/posts/10152119493394317?comment_id=29247467&offset=0&total_comments=1&ref=notif&notif_t=share_comment

Abu Eesa’s anxious outburst – https://www.facebook.com/MuslimFeminism/photos/p.642522249146718/642522249146718/?type=1

The Shaykh and the F Word – http://www.theislamicmonthly.com/the-shaykh-and-the-f-word/

How Al Maghrib Blew It – http://mezba.blogspot.ca/2014/03/how-al-maghrib-blew-it.html

Muslim male allies – http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/03/10/muslim-male-allies_n_4936848.html?utm_hp_ref=tw

Wa’Mutasima! – http://www.patheos.com/blogs/splitthemoon/2014/03/wamutasima/

An Open Letter to Abu Eesa Niamatullah – https://www.facebook.com/notes/naheed-mustafa/an-open-letter-to-abu-eesa-niamatullah/10152239620844675

On Islam and Feminism – http://www.huffingtonpost.com/sami-h-elmansoury/on-islam-and-feminism_b_4945430.html

Imam  Suhaib Webb – https://www.facebook.com/MuslimFeminism/posts/10152116857884317?stream_ref=10

Guest Post – Speak Good or Remain Silent: A Response to the Recent Remarks of a Muslim Teacher – http://commonplacer.wordpress.com/2014/03/12/guest-post-speak-good-or-remain-silent-a-response-to-the-recent-remarks-of-a-muslim-teacher/

Muslims for White Ribbon – https://www.facebook.com/MuslimsForWhiteRibbon/posts/826378900710570

Damsels in distress, the chivalrous caliph, and the misogynistic scholar: a modern fairy tale – http://sobersecondlook.wordpress.com/2014/03/15/damsels-in-distress-the-chivalrous-caliph-and-the-misogynistic-scholar-a-modern-fairy-tale/

Al Maghrib’s comment – http://almaghrib.org/blog/2014/03/13/on-recent-remarks-of-an-instructor/

Yasir Qadi’s thoughts on Abu Eesa – http://muslimmatters.org/2014/03/14/yasir-qadhi-thoughts-on-abu-eesa-gate/

What Abu Eesa’s comments did to my family this week – http://www.altmuslimah.com/b/gva/4921

We deserve better than sexist and racist “teachers”: Honoring real leaders, and a rejoinder to Abu Eesa – http://omidsafi.religionnews.com/2014/03/12/deserve-better-sexist-racist-teachers-honoring-real-leaders-rejoinder-abu-eesa/#sthash.RjizuGCZ.dpuf

Oh, Abu Eesa: an apology letter on your behalf – http://neederish.wordpress.com/2014/03/13/oh-abu-eesa-an-apology-letter-on-your-behalf/

Feminism, male privilege, and Abu Eesa – http://thrivalroom.com/feminism-male-privilege-and-abu-eesa/

Who speaks for abusive Muslim men?

My great grandmother used to mix uncooked rice and pulses together and give it to her children to separate as a form of activity for long and humid summer afternoons.  I see that many young Muslims in the 21st Century have set themselves a similar task – separating local culture from religion.

I try not to express my opinion on this blog because it is not a blog about me, but about what I observe and note; and one thing I have noticed is that while Muslim men are always speaking for Muslim women, no one speaks for the men. Muslim women talk about their men but it’s an altogether different matter.

I was introduced to blogging in early 2006 by a convert to Islam (a Salafi and niqabi) who was sent from her country to live in her Arab husband’s country to raise her four children. Behind her back her husband married – twice – while she was changing nappies and dealing with nosy in-laws. For two years after she found out what her husband was up to, her life’s drama unfolded in front of the eyes of her supporters and readers. She was very religious, intelligent, determined and hardworking. All she wanted was her Islamic right to be treated fairly. To receive that right she tried whatever she could in between providing her husband his rights, bringing him clean towels and giving him another child. She often wrote how she wept on her prayer mat at Fajr begging Allah to have mercy on her. The husband returned to her country to his other wife to whom he was married only religiously and not legally.

Most convert women to Islam that I know are extremely strong women – they go against their families to convert, sometimes hiding that they have become Muslim and sometimes rebelling against them completely. There is a young woman I read who hasn’t told her parents she has become Muslim so they would keep supporting her education. Another woman has bluntly told her non-Muslim mother that she can’t even kiss her baby’s feet with her non-Muslim mouth. There are all sorts of stories. But they have a common thread – a woman’s determination.

Why do Muslim men forget that if a woman is so determined to convert to Islam that she won’t use the same strength and determination to get out of an abusive situation – and perhaps even the fold of Islam? The woman I wrote about above eventually went back to her country with the help of her friends and readers taking all her children with her. She is living a hard life but it is a life that she has chosen, not a life that was thrown at her. She is no longer the Muslim her readers knew in 2006. I know at least five more women like her – one in a worse situation where her husband sexually abused his own children. One young woman’s Muslim fiancé was sleeping with another woman behind her back. A reader of this blog, a born Muslim woman, left Islam after her husband remarried and began “slapping her around.” Another young woman was emotionally forced to wear hijab by her fiancé but he eventually married a woman who doesn’t cover. There are numerous more cases. Eventually most abused women come to the conclusion that if no one is listening to their prayers, then perhaps there is no one there.

Who is speaking for the Muslim men these women were married/engaged to who ruined their lives and religious beliefs?  In none of the cases I know has the man been punished for neglecting his Islamic duties. I was raised by a very strict father, but he was religious and God-fearing and more than that he was God-loving and it was his love for Allah that made him a sincere husband and a responsible father.

Instead of only praying for these abused women that they be guided back to Islam, I think we should raise our voices to oppose men who don’t fulfill their duties thereby pushing these women away from Islam. I have often been told that “Islam gives women all the rights; they don’t need Islamic Feminism.” Sorry sirs, but they do need Islamic Feminism because they have been denied their rights by their patriarchal cultures and selfish men again and again!

For born Muslims, Islam is a mix of culture, traditions, ahadith, sunnah, seera and Quran. Many won’t even be able to differentiate between Muslim tradition and hadith, for instance. Thus, I think to separate Arabic culture from Islam is like trying to separate apple juice from water. Islam grew out of the Arabic culture and so certain aspects may seem shocking to us but they are very much part of the Islamic religion. My only concern is that in our bid to explain away those aspects of religion (which is a very tedious process) we are left with little time and stamina to stand up against the real problems. Women banned from driving or being forced to wear hijab or the French ban on niqaab or Aisha’s age at marriage are important issues but they are not more important than discussing and solving the problems caused by men not taking responsibility for their actions (Quran 4:34).

You can’t discipline your wife if you have failed as a maintainer and protector (Quran 4:34). Period! You can’t abuse your wives and call them khanzeera (female pig) even if you dislike them (Quran 4:19). How can a man take his children away from the mother and teach them to hate her when the Prophet is believed to have taught that a mother was more important than a father? I can’t understand how men lie and cheat leaving their wives hanging in the air (Quran 4:129).  Aren’t men also responsible for love and mercy between a couple (Quran, 30:21)?

Men have been given more opportunities to keep multiple partners through marriage or concubinage, which helps in keeping them mindful of their chastity (Quran, 24:30), but on the other hand keeping multiple partners also leads to dissatisfaction amongst the women. Who takes responsibility for the results of that dissatisfaction? What system is in place in Islamic jurisprudence when that happens apart from khul?

Some may argue that I have offered isolated examples. They are not isolated cases and even if there was only one such case I would argue that when we use a single example as a benchmark (Quran 33:21) then even if one Muslim man doesn’t follow that “beautiful pattern of conduct” he should be brought to task. My heart bleeds for these brave but bone-tired women. I know that men from any religion or culture can be and are abusive. But Muslims have little excuse – we believe that we have been guided (Quran 3:3) and that we were given a perfect example to follow (Quran 33:21) while others have not been so lucky. Thus every time any Muslim, man or woman, errs it becomes every other Muslim’s duty to raise their voice against such people (Quran 3:110). Such errant Muslims do not err because they are Muslim, but err despite being Muslim – despite knowing right from wrong. They are mindful of their rights but not duties. It thus becomes a religious duty to point out their mistakes and bring them to task (Quran 9:71).

Why should we bury our head in the sand for the fear that it will make Muslim men look bad when the Quran itself instructs us to enjoin good and forbid evil?!

A different perspective on hijab

Veil of Ignorance: Have we gotten the headscarf all wrong?” is an  interesting article on hijab by Leila Ahmed in which she talks about her experience of warming up to seeing hijab on young American Muslim women.

Ahmed thinks that Hourani’s article was “spectacularly incorrect” because “veiling among Muslim women, after steadily gaining ground across the globe in the last two decades, is incontrovertibly ascendant.”

Ahmed accepts that she used to think that education and women’s emancipation would free Muslim women from “this relic of women’s oppression” because to her “hijab’s presence meant not piety — for we knew many women who were deeply devout yet never wore hijab — but Islamism” that had its “signature dress, the hijab.” But now she sees it as “a badge of individuality and justice” after speaking to several young American Muslim women about why they choose to wear hijab.

A friend was disappointed with the article; she said she didn’t like the title and that the “conclusion focuses on Western Muslims. Overall tone of article seems to validate stereotypes about veil.” I too felt it focused on Western Muslims because what stood out for me in the article is when Ahmed quotes Albert Hourani to have written in his article that (I quote Ahmed), “It was only in the Arab world’s “most backward regions,” and specifically Saudi Arabia and Yemen, that the “old order” — and along with it such practices as veiling and polygamy — “still persists unaltered.”” I couldn’t help but notice that in the Arab world where I live, the countries that Hourani had once considered the “most backward regions” are now actually giving up veiling.

A couple of days ago I managed to conduct a small-scale study into hijab with 47 young Arab women. I carried out short and informal group interviews (of 10-15 women in a group) and asked the young women why they wear hijab or don’t wear it. All 47 women wear abaya but 35 of them don’t cover their heads with what is called a hijab here. They only put it around their necks.

Based on informal conversations with Arab women I have pointed many times that hijab in the Arab world (the Gulf region) translates to something very different than hijab in the West. The interviews I conducted proved my hypothesis correct. The young women gave different reasons for their choice on hijab which I will summarise as quotes as follows:

  • “I don’t cover my hair because I don’t like this” [pulls at the headscarf].
  • “I wear the abaya because my mother is a foreigner and if I don’t wear the abaya people will blame her for our loss of Arab tradition. I do it just for my mother’s sake but I can’t cover my head. Not showing my hair doesn’t make me look less attractive. It is useless.”
  • “Yes that is right. People love to talk. Chi, chi, chi. Gossip, gossip, gossip. That is why many of us wear the abaya because we are stuck in a gossiping society.”
  • “I cover my hair and my face in front of men. My uncle is a muttawa … you know who is a muttawa? Yes, he explain(ed) for (to) me the importance of niqab and it is fard. The words are not in Quran but Allah speaks indirectly; my uncle explain(ed) for (to) me everything in a clear way and I follow my uncle’s advice Inshallah. “
  • “I would never wear this if I was not fat. Look at me! I love to look slim and beautiful in nice clothes and once I lost (lose) weight I will stop wearing this. Till then I can stay without hijab only.”
  • “I admit that I wear shalia when I go to malls or when I’m with relatives. When I don’t wear it like now, I feel bad. Kasm bilAllah (I swear upon God) I know it is haraam what I’m doing but I hate the hijab. It makes me look ugly.”

When asked why she thinks not wearing hijab is haraam she said, “Because I know! It is in Al Islam. We all know. Everyone knows. I have not read the Quran but I know hijab is fard (compulsory).”

  • “I am 20 years old but without hijab I look 14-15 years old and then men don’t notice me. With hijab I look older and men stare at me. I want to be free and don’t like men noticing me.”
  • Abaya is my traditional (tradition). I love wearing the abaya so people know I am Arab. I am proud to be Arab. I want others to know that.”
  • “I wear hijab because my father told me that if any man sees my hair he will lock me and will marry me to my cousin. I know he won’t do that, but what if he does?!”
  • “No, my father is very nice. He said no one can judge you, only Allah (can) judge you. You cover your hair if you want and don’t if you don’t want. When my younger brother forced me to cover my hair my father tell to him (told him), “Who are you? I am here. I didn’t say to her cover! I love my father.”
  • “My mother thinks I wear hijab 24/7 but I take it off as soon as I leave home because it makes me hot and look like an egg. But my mother says what will our family say?!”
  • “I wear it because my mother, aunts, sisters all wear it. How I will look if I don’t wear it? Maybe my daughter will not wear it and we’ll see when that happens.”

What I found particularly remarkable was that no one said they wear hijab because it is their religious choice, or that it liberates them, or that hijab is what Allah wants – reasons often given by Western hijab-wearers. The ones  who believe hijab to be fard believe so because that is what they have been told by others.

Whereas women in the West wear hijab to affirm “pride in Muslim identity in the face of prejudice”, women I spoke with wear it to affirm pride in their Arab heritage. While for an American woman, hijab was a “required dress that made visible the presence of a religious minority entitled to justice and equality”, in a Muslim majority society being an Arab requires the abaya (with or without the headcovering) as a dress that asserts their exclusivity. In the West women who wear hijab choose it because they are “free to wear whatever they want”, whereas the women who spoke to me were forced either overtly by their families or indirectly by relatives and society in the name of tradition.

Obviously this is a very small study but my aim was to get some viewpoints on hijab and I enjoyed listening to the different perspectives. It also made me realise why I couldn’t understand the Western stance on hijab.  These are women who don’t even know the definition of Islamic Feminism and yet their views on hijab are hardly traditional, whereas in the West where according to Ahmed “Islamic feminism is well and alive”, hijab is a move back to Islamic tradition.

Any thoughts?

Prehominid origins of patriarchy

Sociobiologists and feminists agree that men in patriarchal societies and religions seek to control females. Sociobiologists go a step further and by using Darwin’s theory of sexual selection attempt to explain why males should try to control female sexuality. Sexual selection covers both competition between male and female choice. However, Darwin assumed that choices were made by essentially ”coy” females. Sarah Hrdy argues in ‘Raising Darwin’s consciousness – Female sexuality and the prehominid origins of patriarchy’ that,

 

“female solicitation of multiple males (either simultaneously or sequentially, depending on the breeding system) characterized prehominid females; this prehominid legacy of cyclical sexual assertiveness, itself possibly a female counter-strategy to male efforts to control the timing of female reproduction, generated further male counter-strategies. This dialectic had important implications for emerging hominid mating systems, human evolution, and the development of patriarchal arrangements in some human societies. For hominid males who will invest in offspring, there would be powerful selection for emotions, behaviors, and customs that ensure them certainty of paternity. The sexual modesty that so struck Darwin can be explained as a recent evolved or learned (perhaps both) adaptation in women to avoid penalties imposed by patrilines on daughters and mates who failed to conform to the patriline’s prevailing norms for their sex. Other supposedly innate universals, such as female preferences for wealthy husbands, are also likely to be facultative accommodations by women to constraints set up when patrilines monopolized resources needed by females to survive and reproduce, and passed on intergenerational control of these resources preferentially to sons.”

 

Feminism

Hrdy’s study is both stimulating and extremely valuable. Applied to patriarchal religions it can help to explain the institution of feminism. Feminism is not a natural step in evolution, neither is it a deviation from the ‘natural laws of God.’ Feminism is, in fact, an awakening of the female to realise that patriarchy is not natural and hence could not have been created, implied or advocated by the Creator. It is a regression to the natural origins of the homo-sapiens.

 

Younger wife

Hrdy originally delivered the chapter as a lecture in the Herbet Spencer Lectures at Oxford University in 1995. In the article, Hrdy argues that selection of a young female for mating is against the natural selection of all primates who almost always choose an adult female for copulation who are experienced and parous hence indicating that they can produce offspring. She asks, “why would male Homo sapiens, virtually unique among primates, be so attracted to neotenous traits?” This unnatural preference, she states, is patriarchal and is derived from purely human institutions whereby men “do not merely mate with virginal and compliant young females, but acquire them as wives, concubines, or slaves whom they essentially ‘own’, and as a consequence … are also obliged to provide for long term.”

 

Providing for the female

In all other species males and females fend for themselves, indeed in many species it is the female that hunts while bearing offspring, giving birth and lactating. But in human beings the need to control and own the female is so strong in the male that he is willing to take the responsibility to provide for her. It is no wonder then that “patriarchal marriages guaranteed maintenance for discarded or superseded wives, as well as widows.” In this way, alimony does not offer women prestige, honour or freedom but is actually a contributor in their possession by men.

 

Controlling women’s sexuality

Men control women’s sexuality and make them believe that polygyny is natural while polyandry is unnatural because that is the only way a man “can be absolutely sure that he is the one to have contributed that sperm.” Thus, he may “keep her separate from any other man as in a harem, he may threaten her with violence if she strays, he may devise a mechanical method of preventing intercourse like a chastity belt, he may remove her clitoris to decrease her erotic impulses, or he may convince her that sex is the same thing as love and if she has sexual relations with anyone else, she is violating the sacred ethics of love.”

 

The argument is that polygyny is not any more natural than polyandry and if we were meant to evolve as monogamous couples then both polyandry and polygyny must go. Hrdy quotes Sherfey (1966) to argue that “women’s inordinate orgasmic capacity did not evolve for monogamous sedentary cultures”; like other primates a human female is designed for multiple partners which she tactfully managed in ancient cultures when patriarchy hadn’t engulfed her freedom.

 

Modesty

Human females are also known for not overtly exhibiting ovulation any longer. This is not because we are ‘coy’ as Darwin assumed, but because overt exhibition of ovulation endangers the chances of the male mate to copulate. Thus, human females were commanded by patriarchal males to assume modest clothing so as not to display ‘sexual swellings’, the explicit signs of sexual maturity and ability to produce offspring.

 

Polyandry to counter infanticide

Socialbiologists have established that female primates cast a ‘wide net’ of possible paternity so as to ensure the safety of their offspring which are often killed by males that are sure they were not the father. Thus, uncertainty about paternity assured ancient polyandrous women (as well as modern Tibetan and Kalahari desert women) that all mates could be possible fathers who all looked after the child even if the biological father died or was captured. Hrdy gives the example of biblical accounts where suckling infants and other children were to be killed outright as highlighting the natural male ability to commit infanticide which is a “protean phenomenon across animals especially humans” to ensure quick resumption of ovulatory cycles for the mother when her child from another mate is removed from her through death. Patriarchy is therefore unnatural to the human species since it restricts women from casting a wide net of possible paternity while allowing men to have multiple sexual partners. Hence if eradication of polyandry is marketed as an evolutionary step, polygyny should also be eliminated from society since it severely restricts the resources available to a human female through sharing it with other unrelated females as is shown by Chisholm and Burbank (1991).

 

Hrdy states that concealed ovulation, continuous receptivity, face-to-face copulation and female capacity for orgasm are not uniquely human attributes that have evolved, but all this is “much older prehominid heritage that does not assume monogamous mating systems.”

 

The author also argues that, “relative sexual freedom is permitted women under some circumstances, but the vast majority of human cultures practice a double standard of sexual morality which combined with the human capacity for language and propensity for gossip, subjects any woman who cannot account for her whereabouts to damaging            , even lethal, penalties, as well as to internally produced feelings of mortification and shame.”

 

Inheritance

Related to such intimidation and indoctrination is also the monopolization by patrilines of resources needed to survive and successfully rear offspring concentrating resources in male hands through patriarchal inheritance systems. Such systems biases intergenerational transfers of resources in favour of sons who can “keep hold of cattle or land, versus daughters who are particularly vulnerable from having it taken away or diverted to their husband’s lineage.”

 

Concealed ovulation, inheritance transfer, and continuation of polygyny are results of modern life but they are patriarchal and not necessarily a natural step in evolution. Patriarchy was not invented only 2,500 years ago but dates much further back into history. In any case, it is arguably a creation of the mind of the alpha human male to ensure that he can own and mate with the women of his choice so that he only provides for the offspring that his sperm has produced.

 

I thought the article was brilliant. What are your thoughts? … if you are still awake!